Archive for the ‘Day Job’ Category

Going to the Show

Have you ever seen Bull Durham? If not, watch this clip:

 
Over the past eleven years I have worked with many great people on many great projects.  While there has been plenty for those teams to be proud of, I have never worked on a hit.  I have never worked on a game with a marketing budget to speak of. I have never worked on a game with a 90+ Metacritic rating. I have never worked somewhere that could really afford to push a game back just to make sure it was right before it came out. In other words, I have never been to The Majors.

Well that is all about to change:  tomorrow is my first day at Valve Software as a programmer on Team Fortress 2.

I am excited to be going to Valve for many reasons.  I love their games. I am hugely impressed by their consistently high level of quality. I am excited to work with a whole new pile of very smart people. I am excited to learn how their freaky “we don’t have managers, or pure designers, or even job descriptions, really” development process works. I love their dedication to playtesting and really taking playtest feedback to heart.  This is a big opportunity to learn from people who have built some of the best games out there.

My career is about to take a big step forward. I am excited, nervous, and more than a little intimidated. I feel like I’m finally going to the show.

Pirates of the Burning Sea launches in Russia

It’s called Corsairs Online over there. Everything I hear out of FLS tells me that Akella is doing a great job with the beta and launch.Congratulations FLSers! 

Time For a Change

Friday July 11th was my last day at Flying Lab Software. I left Flying Lab to join a little startup with a big idea called Divide by Zero Games. Misha Williams is taking over the producer job on Pirates. For my part, I’m returning to my programming roots and joining Divide by Zero as CTO.

There are a bunch of reasons for me to make this change, but the biggest one is this:  I’ve been at Flying Lab for almost nine years. In our ever-changing industry it’s extremely rare to be at one place for so long. Even outside the game industry, it’s not really all that common.  Have you ever worked at one company for more than eight years? When you stay in one place for that amount of time, your view of the world tends to crystallize and you forget that the rest of the industry doesn’t work exactly the same way you’re used to. You are also unable to spread your network nearly as far since all of the people at the “I’ve worked with that guy” level of familiarity are at the same company.

There is also something to be said for getting to switch projects. I was the guy who suggested making an MMO in the first place so I’ve been on Pirates since before there was even a project. By going to DbZ, I am able to apply the last five-plus years worth of lessons at the start of a new game. We made plenty of mistakes on Pirates that still haunt the game, so a big part of my role on the new project will be to avoid making those mistakes again.  Instead DbZ will make plenty of new and exciting mistakes. :)

There isn’t much I can share about the new project at this point. There’s basically nothing I can say that isn’t on the website: It’s a strategy MMO. We will probably pull off the covers sometime next year. In the meantime I’m hoping to be able to post a bit about the underlying technology without giving away much game design or business stuff. We’ll see how that goes.

The years I spent at Flying Lab were very fun and incredibly valuable to me. I’m really going to miss seeing the people over there every day. I’m hoping to still make it over there for Game Night, so I will still get to see them every week or so. I wish Misha and her crew the best of luck and hope Pirates treats them as well as it’s treated me.

Pirates Post-partum at ION

At ION I gave a talk on our development process for Pirates. Darius Kazemi has posted a transcript of the talk. It’s also up at the Vault Network. I wonder how much buzz it’s going to get.

I’m giving the same talk at AGDC this year, so if you missed me at ION you can catch it there.

Getting Feedback

Andy Brice recently posted on getting feedback from software customers. With Pirates, our options are similar but somewhat tweaked.

We host our own forums for our user community to hang out on. On most MMOs about 10% of the player base actually uses these, and they self-select into a very hard-core and usually unhappy group. We can use the forums to find out what they’re unhappy about, but they probably don’t represent the actual player base very well. Still, listening to this segment of our community is important.

Click-cancel surveys are another common option. When someone goes to your site to cancel their subscription you ask them why they’ve canceled. SOE isn’t currently set up to run these, so we don’t have that data available, but many games do this kind of survey. This information is useful for finding exit points for players so you can eliminate them.

Recently I’ve started doing something a little different. I show up in game with no warning whatsoever and announce that I’m running an impromptu devchat. I offer to teleport any players who want to attend to an out of the way spot and then spend an hour or so answering their questions. I’ve run four of these so far (with one of our designers helping out on all but one of them.)

The biggest difference between what I hear in these impromptu devchats and what I read on the forums is the tone.  The forums are all about this OMG important issue or that OMG important issue.  The devchats have all been players asking about various new stuff that we might add to the game. (The answer is almost always “That’s a great idea that we want to implement, but we don’t know when we’ll get to it.”)  I think to get more feedback from players I’ll need to actually ask them some questions.

Maybe I’ll have to try that in the next one…